There’s an awful lot of groaning going on in Romans 8:22-26! Paul says that all of creation has been groaning, as if in the pains of childbirth (v. 22). We who are believers are also groaning, as we eagerly await our redemption (v. 23); and even the Holy Spirit groans as he intercedes before the Father on our behalf, because words cannot express the depth of feeling that accompanies his intercession (v. 26).
One of the metaphors Paul uses is the picture of childbirth. All creation, he says, is groaning as in the pains of childbirth. This metaphor is helpful because it expresses the pain that we often associate with groaning, but, in childbirth, that pain is not without its reward. I am glad I can’t speak from personal experience regarding the pain and rewards of childbirth, but the fact that women willingly continue to have children after they have experienced such pain is evidence enough that the final reward outweighs the difficulty of the process. This, I think, is what Paul is getting at. God has a plan for history that involves all of creation, but the culmination of that plan still lies in the future, promising an eternal glory that far outweighs the “labor pains” of suffering, hardship and disappointment we experience as we wait for God’s eternal plan to come to fruition (2 Corinthians 4:17). In fact, Paul says, the glory that awaits us will make our present troubles seem “light and momentary,” just as a new mother quickly forgets the pains of childbirth when her baby is nestled in her arms.
As Jesus taught in the parable of the Wheat and the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30), the kingdom of God is growing up amidst the weeds of this world. God’s perfect plan for history is unfolding in a world that has rejected him and is twisted and torn by the effects of sin. Consequently, not only humans, but all of creation, must endure the sharp pains of labor as God repairs what sin has broken. We can never be whole until God’s work is complete, but once God’s Spirit gives us a taste of what it must be like to be whole, we yearn for that wholeness with a desire that is so intense as to be almost painful—and so we “groan inwardly;” and all creation groans along with us because it, too, yearns for the wholeness of completion and fulfillment. In his turn, the Spirit groans too, as he knows our brokenness and has compassion for us in our struggle.
But, just as the groans of labor give way to the cries of joy, Paul encourages us to look forward with hope to the day when our waiting will be over (v. 24-25). Today we groan because we do not yet have what we yearn for, but the fact that we do not yet have it does not mean that it is not a reality. Hope is not wishful thinking, as though we aren’t sure that what we long for will really happen. Rather, Paul says, hope is the certainty that what we do not yet have will indeed come. Faith is similar to hope. It is the willingness to root our lives, not in what is seen, but in what is unseen, confident that it is what is unseen that is most real (2 Corinthians 4:18).
Based on the promises of Scripture, we can be confident that hope and faith will one day become obsolete because all that we long for will be realized and all we do not now see will be manifest. For now even though we, and creation, and even the Spirit groan, we need not despair. Rather, we can wait patiently, with absolute confidence that what God began he will finish, and the wholeness we long for will indeed be ours. So let us press on through the struggles, hurts and disappointments of this life. The labor pains are real and they often hurt, but there is a joy awaiting us that is beyond compare!
August 1, 2019
Pastor Jon Enright